We are living through an ecological crisis, the likes of which the Earth has never seen before. Within the last twenty-five years, close to half of the world's wildlife has been threatened with extinction; now extinctions are estimated to occur daily. Many of these species will not yet have been discovered and could prove vital to maintaining a functional ecosystem.
According to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a UN committee with 145 experts operating in fifty different countries, one million species are now set to face extinction over the coming decades. Aside from the obvious existential dread of such a statistic, a mass extinction on this scale could have truly disastrous ripple effects for humanity. Something has to be done; it needs to be big and it needs to be now.
Here’s an extract from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, in which he accidentally travels too far into the future.
'The darkness grew apace; a cold wind began to blow in freshening gusts from the east, and the showering white flakes in the air increased in number. From the edge of the sea came a ripple and whisper. Beyond these lifeless sounds, the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives—all that was over."
Wells may not have been too far off.
Extinction now occurs at such an alarming rate that it’s almost impossible to comprehend. It occurs daily and it will take the planet millions of years to return to its natural levels of biodiversity.
Theorist, Timothy Morton, refers to our current ecological catastrophe as a "Hyper-object" - something that cannot be articulated as a whole, but rather as a compound set of parts.
The big million.
As of a new report by IPBES, we now know that over a million species are set to face extinction in the near future. That's over ten per cent of life on Earth.
Who is IPBES?
Before climate cynics get on to the report for being"‘pro-climate" (as if it’s possible to be pro-climate), the IPBES or "Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services" is a profoundly objective scientific body. They employ experts in all major schools and operate in fifty different countries.
It took three years.
Scientific studies tend to go on for a long time, but this was unprecedented in scale.
Life support systems.
One of the lead researchers had this to say: "The other organisms of the planet are our life support systems. You can forget about them if you don’t care about eating if you don’t care about breathing".
The IPBES Chair added:
"The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever… transformative change" is needed to save the planet.
It’s our fault.
This problem is profoundly anthropogenic. Anyone who argues otherwise is denying the facts, be it out of cynicism or straight po-faced ignorance.
We’ve done a great many things to accidentally - and, at times, purposefully - wipe out our earthly sojourns.
Here are some of the drivers of mass extinction.
While global warming is caused by a number of different factors, it’s centrally about carbon emission heating trapping heat within the atmosphere.
This obliterates species that rely on fragile changes in the Earth's temperature - such as plant species, and we all know how important they can be.
This is an obvious one. The places in the world with the most diverse and thriving ecosystems are the rainforests, which, particularly in Brazil, thanks to the morally embryonic Jair Bolsonaro, are shrinking fast.
Many have been replaced with vast stretches of plantations set for agribusiness.
Melting sea ice.
Melting sea ice is devastating gulf streams all over the world by cooling them. They’re also causing sea levels to rise, putting an entire species of Floridians and New Jerseyites at risk.
Many animals are still sought after for certain unorthodox qualities.
Granted, there’s less of a market in the West than there is in countries such as China, which imports a huge amount of illegally poached animal products.
Plastic pollution in the sea completely disrupts the food chain.
Microplastics have even been found in the stomachs of animals as far-flung as the Mariana Trench.
Three hundred to four hundred million.
Three hundred to four hundred million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans annually.
The ocean now contains four hundred separate "dead zones", totalling an area greater than the UK in size.
Dead zones are created when plastic pollution starves the sea of oxygen such that it can no longer support life.
This was on everyone’s minds after movies like The Cove led the conversation.
But now the Japanese government have re-introduced whaling to the legislation. Why are they doing this? It looks like Whale Wars is due a come-back.
And all the wrong species are thriving.
Thanks to global warming, vector born diseases have dramatically increased thanks to parasites and mosquitos becoming more suited to northerly climates.
Amphibians are suffering.
40% of all amphibian species are under threat.
Coral is also under threat.
33% of all coral, thanks to global warming and deep-sea bleaching, may be wiped out sooner than we'd like.
Marine mammals are at risk, too.
One-third of all marine mammals are now at risk of disappearing.
There has also been drastic changes in the land.
Here’s a sinister statistic: humans have altered 75% of all land environments since pre-industrial times.
What’s to be done?
Thanks to complacency on behalf of industrializing governments, oil and gas magnates, agribusiness and much of the Western world, the window for right-siding this sinking ship has grown very narrow indeed.
Things need to change, and that doesn’t just mean recycling or any of the micro-consumerist nonsense that we’re peddled on a daily basis - it means drastic political and social overhaul.
The scale of The Second World War.
The UN committee on climate recommends social and political reform across the industrialized world on the scale of the Second World War by this year, in order to substantially curb the coming climate disaster.
That means policy change.
This is a tough problem, and it’s not going to go away thanks to individual action alone, it’s going to take drastic political policy change. It’s going to take political bravery and a lot of sacrifices.
The current president of the USA is an active climate change denier.
Climate inaction threatens all of us, everywhere in the world. The science is in, he has to go.
Rachel Warren, professor of global change and environmental biology at the University of East Anglia, told CNN that governments should focus on "the restoration of destroyed or degraded ecosystems with native species [as this] helps to address both biodiversity loss and climate change."’
Yes, political policy needs to change, but we have to do what we can to help the situation.
You can donate to the WWF here to help to preserve the species at risk of extinction.